IO Interactive are perhaps more well known for the Hitman series of games, and perhaps lesser known for the rather underrated Freedom Fighters, which appeared on multiple systems. IO Interactive weren’t able to produce a true sequel to Freedom Fighters due to legal issues (a change of publisher) but in turn have managed to start from scratch so to speak, and come up with a new game using aspects from it. Cue Kane & Lynch, a third person squad based action game, which tells the tale of two very oddball anti-heroes. Actually I’m not even sure if these guys qualify as heroes in the first place?
The story for both characters is pretty messed up, with murder and deceit being protagonists of their fates. Basically their paths cross inside death row, but rather than fry for their sins, they are given a glimmer of hope as Kane’s past catches up with him, ultimately throwing him out of the frying pan and into the fire!
Kane & Lynch starts off pretty dramatically and offers a tutorial mission of sorts to ease you into the combat and then the finer details. During the single player portion of the game, you get to control Kane, an ex mercenary who is highly skilled in combat. The opening mission sees the pair escape from death row via Kane’s old companions, The 7. They believe he had run off with all the cash from an earlier heist, and have now kidnapped his wife and daughter. The premise here is that Kane gets them the money back, and his daughter and wife are spared. Lynch is tasked with overseeing Kane to make sure he plays by their rules, and so the adventure begins.
The basic gameplay here is pretty typical stuff, although there are some elements that will take some getting used to. Obviously you can use a number of weapons (a maximum of one primary and one secondary firearm at any one time), and can pick up weapons from fallen enemies as well. Sadly you do not get to choose which weapons to take prior to missions, but in all honesty they pretty much all have similar attributes. Here lies my first complaint of the game; the firing of weapons seems to take a realistic slant whereby shooting an AK-47 for example, will cause the cross hair to shift around, especially if you go full auto. This is fine and dandy in a game that is buried in realism, but for a game that is purely arcade, it does hamper the enjoyment of shooting. The problem also is that shooting enemies becomes cumbersome due to the fact that the bullet path never truly matches where you are aiming – so you can forget precise headshots with anything other than a pistol shot at point blank range.
Kane & Lynch offers a cover system as well, in which you can blind fire or pop out and focus fire at targets. This element is somewhat broken, and by the end of the game, you’ll probably just about have worked it out. It seems that you need to press up against a surface rather precisely, otherwise Kane will not enter the cover mode. In the heat of battle this can become quite frustrating, especially as it seems like there is no consistency between what surfaces can be used or not. Saying that, it is quite possible to complete the game without actually using the cover as you are able to crouch at the touch of a button anyways.
Looking at the game’s AI and this opens up another can of worms. On one hand you have some pretty cool squad commands at your disposal, which means you can order Lynch (or several other characters that join you as the story progresses) to defend a certain area of your choosing. You can order him to follow or focus his fire on a target of your choice as well. When you have the full squad at your disposal then you can individually use those same commands or order them as a group. This element was featured in Freedom Fighters and works very well for the most part. Sadly, I found firefights to be somewhat intense at first and didn’t really use the squad mechanic very much, as it was safer to simply have any team mate set to the default follow command.
Another neat aspect of having the squad, is the ability to swap weapons and share ammo. This is quite cool as an option, but is something that I rarely used; bar grabbing a silenced sniper rifle from one guy towards the end of the game (why wasn’t this Kane’s starting weapon for this mission?). On my second play through of the game, and with a greater understanding of what to expect, I began to use the squad a little more. Sending them off into groups and setting up flanking positions. If you plan ahead and try and engage as little as possible as Kane, then the squad element does come into its own. Sadly, I fear that most players are going to over look this, as the game never forces you to use this element – which in hindsight is a shame.
One very annoying feature of the game is when Kane is incapacitated. The AI will normally (if nearby) stab you with an adrenaline boost, which puts you back into the action. This is great, and means keeping at least one person by your side when you are using the squad element is vital. Sometimes the AI won’t be very helpful, especially during intense firefights, and perhaps too often they will leave you to perish. The worst aspect of this feature is the fact that your team mates are revived in a similar fashion. However, your team won’t revive each other, meaning it’s up to you to risk your life to save them. Sounds good on paper, but the reality is that if you don’t get to them in time, it’s GAME OVER! This often results in you taking a few too many hits and dying in the process.
To continue moaning about the AI, and I feel I must, their aim is also pretty “ropey”. It seems to take them an age to kill enemies, even in close quarters, and somewhat dampens the whole squad element where it’s often easier, quicker, and just plain more rewarding to simply kill everyone yourself! The enemy AI is also pretty stupid, and rather than work in effective teams will often get stuck, or perform some incredibly stupid actions that put them into the line of fire. It just seems the AI scripting is completely broken, and should have had more months of tweaking before being deemed as ready.
Right, well that’s enough moaning about potential game breaking features (although I’m far from done). On a positive note, Kane & Lynch features some cool levels interwoven with the gritty and engaging story; although these are interspersed with some really dire ones too. I am proud to say that the mission involving breaking into a prison to release your team was rather good and well realized. However, the best mission in the entire game, and one that is up there amongst the greats for third person shooters, was the mission to retrieve a briefcase from a Japanese crime lord. It seemed to have everything just right, intensity, drama, style and an overall cool factor the other handful of missions seemed to lack. It’s a shame, because shortly after this moment, you are thrust into the Havana missions, which offered perhaps the most frustrating and boring missions of the entire game. What should have been an engaging and dramatic climax, is turned into a lifeless gaming by numbers experience that really annoyed the hell out of me.
Graphically, Kane & Lynch seems to be stuck in a time warp. In general the overall texture detail is very poor, and it seems the game looks marginally better than what we’d expect from Xbox or PS2. It just seems that no love was poured into making the environments look appealing or pleasing on the eye. The character models are fairly decent for the main characters, but the enemies and NPCs are very poor indeed. Something went wrong with this game’s graphics, and I suspect it has something to do with starting out as a game intended for last generation systems. When you have game’s like Mass Effect, Gears of War and just about every other game on Xbox 360 looking pretty decent, there’s really no excuse for Kane & Lynch to fail miserably in the graphics department.
The voice acting is actually pretty decent, as the game provides a good plot that remains full of surprises throughout. There’s a lot of swearing, which is acceptable for the most part, but I do think its use is a little stagnant, and perhaps over used for the sake of it. The ambient sounds are reasonable, other than you will be hearing repeated phrases over and over from NPCs and enemies. Gun sounds aren’t steeped in realism, and so don’t be expecting the crack of gunfire to immerse you into a genuine recreation of reality.
The single player portion of the game can be completed in a day of solid play, and as mentioned you get to play as Kane. There is a co-op option for offline play, which means two of you can go split-screen with one as Kane and the other as Lynch. Sadly there is no option for a replay of the levels as Lynch for the lone player, which seems like an blundering oversight and another negative for the game. Lynch has his own story and play style, which would have benefited the game had he been a playable option once the story is beaten the first time. I replayed the single player on Hard mode and found that the experience was the same as the first time; although as I said, I did use the squad a little more the second time through for sake of variety. The lack of online co-op is a huge letdown, and again a further negative slant on the game. I really do wonder what IO Interactive were thinking releasing this game in its current state? Perhaps they ran out of money, because it certainly comes across as such.
One saving grace for the game is in fact the Fragile Alliance multiplayer is very good. This aspect of the game will entertain 4-8 players in either ranked or unranked matches. It’s a unique idea, albeit a little sloppy, as it uses the same mechanics and levels from the single player. The onus is on performing heists as a team versus AI, but to mix things up a little, there is the option for players to go rogue, and pocket any gains for themselves rather than as a collective. It works really well and I found this to be more enjoyable than the single player portion of the game. Sadly there are only four maps, and no variants to mess around with bar time and round numbers; again this harks back to the fact that the game simply feels empty and rushed out in time for Xmas. I had some good laughs playing Fragile Alliance, and despite the fact that it could get tiring after hours of play, IO Interactive have to be commended for trying something new. With a little more spit, polish and options this mode could have been more than just very good.
This review has come across a little on the negative side, but I feel I have just cause. There are most certainly some very likable aspects of the single player such as the compelling adult themed story, squad element, and of course the Japanese missions, which I still think are some of the best in any action game. Sadly the implementation and impact on the player the game has will most likely be overshadowed by the numerous flaws. The lack of replay-ablity of the single player, the omission of playing as Lynch for lone players, the poor graphics, terrible enemy AI, and the mundane Havana levels, really kill the single player experience for me. There are some genuinely satisfying moments throughout the game, but these are far and few between, and not something to warrant a purchase for those of you who play alone.
The multiplayer offers another level of fun and madness, that plays upon the greed of online gamers. This is perhaps the game’s most innovative feature, and one that certainly pulls the bruised and bloodied package from the freshly dug grave it unfortunately will fall into. I think if you try and like the game, then of course you’ll gain something from it, but for long term appeal, there really isn’t enough substance here to warrant a purchase. I say rent first before making a decision on whether Kane & Lynch is really worthy of your time. Kane & Lynch is a wasted opportunity, and could have been so much more with some further development time. If IO Interactive focused on the good parts, and replaced the bits that are broken and damn right dull, they could be onto a winner with the basic formula they have at the moment.